The EBER Project -- When Goals Attack

When I started planning my major, three year project (dubbed Early to Bed, Early to Rise -- EBER) I knew it was important to immediately begin working on one or two of the goals. So I broke down part of the project into epics and then chose a couple of stories to get started on. This even before initiating the project.

This is useful because it keeps me from getting too caught up in planning. I need to be making traction even while the rest of the plan comes into focus.

My two chosen epics were around physical fitness and information gathering. Now, there's an argument to be made against focusing on too many things at once. But there's also some logic around intelligently picking stories that compliment one another.

My physical fitness stories are primarily physical -- though they have emotional and mental benefits. They are active but allow me time to think. My information gathering stories are mental / spiritual. They are contemplative but require focus and quiet time.

So the two epics don't conflict and in fact pair together nicely.

But I recently noticed a strong desire to add a third epic. Such a strong desire that I found myself working on the epic without having decided to do it. Instead of blaming myself for this breech of process or resolutely forcing myself to stop, I chose instead to examine my motives and drivers.

When you find yourself working outside your stated objectives there are usually two flavors. First, you might be working on something instead of your planned stories. Second, you might be working on something in addition to your planned stories.

If it's instead of, consider the following possibilities:

  • Are you avoiding the work you should or want to be doing because of some fear? Does the new thing act as a distraction to something you find difficult or scary? In this case, you should stop and spend some time thinking about what you are stuck on and not allow yourself to get distracted.
  • Are you doing this new thing as a direct replacement for the thing you'd planned? Is this a different, maybe better, way to move forward on the epic? Change happens and sometimes a different possibility presents itself and you just know it's the right thing to do. In this case, you should adjust your story, epic, goal, even project based on the new information/opportunity. Agile means flexible.
  • Are you doing this new thing because what you chose to do was wrong? Sometimes we think we want something, but we really don't. Or we think we know how to get someplace, but we are wrong. Remember, any part of your project is up for revision at any point. If going to law school is the wrong thing for you, better accept that now rather than 4 years and $100k in debt from now.
  • Was your original plan too vague, undoable, or fuzzy? Make sure your stories are clear, doable, and tie to your mission/values/vision. You can't take action on things that are not actionable, but you want to make progress so you work on something that is.

If it's in addition to, consider the following:
  • Were you too easy on yourself? Sometimes we don't give ourselves enough to do, and we start adding extra work to stay motivated. That's great, but next time do it mindfully.
  • Is there a dependency with your other work? Is it impossible to make traction on your planned efforts without also doing this other thing? You have just learned something important about how project dependencies work. Learn from the experience as you choose work in the future.
  • Is there a gap in your planned efforts? Did you leave a big hole in what you choose to do that has an impact on your project or life? Sometimes we know what we need without knowing. Accept that and use the information to adjust your plan.
In my case it was this last item. I was still making traction on my physical and mental work, but found that the lack of any emotional component was difficult. In fact, the information gathering I was doing was difficult and it was hard to keep my composure -- to remain coherent (to use a Gordonism). So I began immersing myself into modern applications of Stoic thinking again. This was the extra work I hadn't planned, but that I clearly need.

The universe obliged by providing me opportunities to do that very thing. So I will roll with it and count on Stoicism to help me through the stress caused by intelligence gathering.


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